The Asia-Pacific meetings and events industry is thriving, though not without its challenges. There is a growing focus on audience experience, agencies are feeling the pressure to do more with less, competing marketing channels are getting noisier, and everything must be tracked, traced and evaluated.
In many areas, this has brought more sophisticated event spend and better audience engagement, but major strategic shifts are putting additional pressure on all stakeholders to operate smarter, leaner and more creatively.
CEI checks in with leading voices across the industry to find out what 2018 has in store:
1. Experiential focus to continue
“Live communications are focusing a lot more on brands’ emotional attributes and the only game in town is now crafting Experiences with a capital ‘E’,” says Pierre Vauvillier, account director at Uniplan Hong Kong. “Brands play with the senses and emotions to convey a feeling of authenticity to entice audiences to then produce [their own] content that will extend the reach of the event’s physical audience. The key now is to provide audiences with platforms to curate their own experiences. Brands are becoming “experience enablers”.
“Audience-wise, brands are tending to focus more and more on Millennials and Gen Z and craft experiences around their interests,” he adds. “They are now dictating what is cool and trending and the brands are following them – somehow it used to be the other way around. Brands are more than ever approaching live communications in an audience-centric manner.”
2. Business model innovation
Venues buying PCOs; CVBs and CECs creating their own event assets—we should expect radical changes to classic stakeholder roles according to Oscar Cerezales, chief operating officer, Asia Pacific, MCI Group.
“DMOs, CVBs, associations, corporations, CECs—all of us are in the middle of a surge of new business models,” he says. “There is an erosion of traditional business models—innovation is not about creating new products or services, it’s about creating new business models.
“A relevant number of venues will soon sell experiential marketing services, destinations will own significant recurrent events and we’ll see things like joint ventures increasing 25-fold. Business model innovation means there are no rules.”
3. Getting strategic
As meeting volume increases, more and more organisations are adopting a strategic approach according to Belinda Doery, regional director, APAC, American Express Meetings & Events.
“As meeting demand and activity is increasing, the pressure for an organisation to be financially efficient increases with that,” she says. “Strategic meetings have become a priority across the globe, in APAC we are seeing an increase in consolidated programmes at a country level. This allows companies to consolidate spend for financial benefits such as increased leverage across fewer suppliers, as well as gaining visibility to help ensure compliant meetings programmes.”
A drive for localisation within global meetings programmes is also making them more attractive within the region. “There was some pushback locally when strategic meetings programmes were first introduced, but the pressure to achieve compliance and financial efficiency is making them more and more attractive, and in 2018 there will be more flexibility towards recognising country-specific needs,” says Doery.
4. More events, fewer players
“What’s happening in the market is dual and very different trends,” says MCI’s Cerezales. “On the one hand there’s huge market consolidation, but at the same time you see huge market fragmentation. There are mergers and acquisitions in hotels, agencies and tech companies, but at the same time we’re seeing an explosion in the number of events.
“CMOs have more budget than ever, however what’s really changing is the way they’re spending. They want three key things: to track the customer, increase touchpoints with the customer, and understand the customer journey.
“Instead of organising two or three big events a year, now they’re organising 500 smaller events. They still do big events, but there is exponential growth in smaller events because when you have a reduced number of attendees the engagement is better, the tracking is better, the touchpoints are better.”
5. Digital drivers
“Digitalisation is noticeable across the event industry as brands understand that their audience is connected and they have to follow them where they already are: online,” says Uniplan’s Vauvillier. “It is also the key to extending event reach, but most importantly, to gather data and multiply touchpoints with audiences and keep them engaged after the experience.”
Vauvillier also expects this trend to shift agency offerings. “As the audience’s content consumption behaviour evolves, brands try to keep up. Live communication relies a lot more on rich content. No matter whether video, interactive tools such as VR and AR, or gamification, a brand’s mission is to connect with its audience by engaging them in a relevant yet innovative manner to increase chances for conversion.”
6. Client demands
Budgets may be healthy, but expectations have never been higher. “We are seeing a lot of discussion around organisations maximising event impact on attendees and how to track that, versus procurement trying to keep costs down,” says AMEX M&E’s Doery.
Experiential agencies are seeing a similar trend. “The changes in audience behaviour are directly impacting agency briefings from ever more demanding clients,” says Uniplan’s Vauvillier. “The budget keeps expanding in mega markets like China and each branded event is a competition to surpass what the competitor did the week before—especially in the automotive and technological industries.”
When it comes to lead times, clients are thinking longer in advance but not necessarily booking in advance. “The conversations are starting earlier,” says Doery. “Sensitivity to geopolitical instability is driving proactive discussion, but for the same reason clients are hesitant to commit.”
7. Creating communities
“This industry has worked in a transactional way for years, but this is changing because now everyone is thinking about audiences,” says MCI’s Cerezales. “We all want to create models where we not only create communities, but we grow communities and we engage these communities.
According to Cerezales this involves five key factors: message customisation; online and offline engagement; creating a story and experience around the content; legacies—engaging better before, during and after an event; and trying to improve event design to engage multicultural, multigenerational audiences.
8. Tech takeover
Mobile apps have become a multi-faceted measurement tool and facial recognition is being used to register tens of thousands of delegates on-site. So where to next?
“There are no clear-cut solutions at this point,” says AMEX M&E’s Doery, “but there is a lot of discussion and production at the moment and over the next 12-24 months we expect to see a game-changing move.”
Doery expects to see a mix of specialist agencies, in-house solutions and collaborative partnerships emerge. “Twelve months ago people were laughing about facial recognition, now it’s being looked at not just for registration, but to measure audience engagement during events,” she says.
When it comes to hybrid meetings, Doery expects the next 12-18 months to show increased uptake as infrastructure capabilities improve, alongside attendee experience.
“For a pharmaceutical event that may attract 500 people face-to-face, we are seeing 3,500-5,000 people participate virtually,” she says. “Doctors don’t have time to attend a three-day conference, but they can travel to the nearest hospital.”
Japan has shown a very strong adoption of hybrid meetings, which now represent 20-25 per cent of all meetings activity, whereas that figure is less than five per cent for the rest of the APAC region.
9. Venue trends
While online booking platforms are slowly making inroads into Asia Pacific inventory, Doery expects things to move beyond that to something similar to the airline industry’s global distribution system, which would allow agencies to book, block and pay for event space in real time.
In 5-10 years AMEX M&E forecasts that “sophisticated electronic sourcing tools will facilitate online booking that will have the capacity to take into account a large company’s travel policy and its preferred suppliers”.
The increased demand for out-of-the-box venues is expected to continue, especially as groups revisit familiar destinations and audiences continue to expect custom, authentic and money-can’t-buy experiences.
10. Marketing mix
Geopolitical instability, the need to track and measure spending and impact, and the increased engagement of online audiences may result in marketing budgets being diverted from live events. Says MCI’s Cerezales: “Marketers are now investing more in social media and other channels – and that has the potential to change everything.”
While event budgets are relatively stable at present, Cerezales expects corporations will soon be spending more than half of their event budget on digital engagement.
“Not only is social media cheaper and you can better track ROI than with live events, it is also very scalable,” he says. “I can start a social media campaign tomorrow that covers the world, but it’s not that easy to create a worldwide strategy when it comes to events.”